You know those little stickers on produce you peel off and ignore? Turns out they’re useful!
There’s a 4 or 5-digit code for each piece of produce.
Conventional produce starts with a 3 or 4.
Organic starts with a 9.
You’d think Frankenfood would start with a 666, but you’d be wrong. Genetically modified produce starts with an 8.
This is how I remember. While perusing the produce I sing a Gregorian chant I like to call “Hate The Eight.” Here’s how it goes: “Hate the eight … Hate the eight … Hate the eight … Hate the eight … Hate the eight … Hate the eight.”
Next time I go to the store, I’m going to do a little survey of my produce department. I suggest you do the same. If it’s alarming, be sure to tell both the Produce Manager and the Store Manager.
Like ending a sentence with a preposition, genetically modified food is something up with which we should not put.
I read about a fascinating social experiment where the researcher sent a group of old men to a location where they were surrounded by all things 1950 — magazines, music, TV shows, newspapers, clothing. They were told only to discuss events from the 1950s and only in the present tense, essentially pretending they were their younger selves for a week.
Before and after their week of ducktails and leather jackets, they were given a battery of physical and mental tests. At the end, the men all tested “younger.” They had better grip strength, dexterity, posture, gait, memory, hearing AND vision!
The June 2013 issue of Smithsonian Magazine is a Food Issue. Lots of interesting articles about food. One about Dwight Henry, a New Orleans baker who was plucked from his doughnut shop to play the Dad in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild.’ A you-are-there free-ranging discussion between Ruth Reichl and Michael Pollan over dinner. Another fabulous journey by Mary Roach to find the world’s hottest pepper. Astronaut food. Why you like the tastes you like. And more.
But also an article about ‘food ephiphanies’ that a long-time food critic has had over her career. She claims “21,170 restaurant meals in 49 countries since 1953.”
Wow. A fascinating culinary life, I’m sure. But here’s a passage about a pasta dish that steels my resolve not to read food writing.
“Touted as a late-night hangover preventive in Rome, thick bucatini provide sensuously chewy satisfaction heightened with the nutty garlic bits, verdant mincings of parsley and, for the brave of palate, fiery red flecks of the dried chilies peperoncini. (No cheese, please.) To achieve perfection the pasta should be Italian – made of durum wheat flour and molded in a brass die. It should be cooked only slightly al dente so it is not too stiff to wind yet is not mushy, and its cooking water must be well salted. The bits of garlic have to be sautéed in the best virgin olive oil to only the lightest, sunniest gold, and the flat Italian parsley leaves (no stems) must be freshly minced and sprinkled on just before serving, with luck in a warm wide bowl.”
Only Italian pasta? Molded in a brass die? In a warm wide bowl? No cheese? No stems?
No thanks. I prefer my food writing less condescending.
How ’bout you? Does this kind of description float your boat?
FallingFruit.org has a simple mission: to connect “people, food, and the natural organisms growing in our neighborhoods.”
They do this by creating and maintaining an incredible open-sourced world map pinpointing spots to forage for ‘urban edibles.’
Here’s their map. Keep clicking the spot(s) closest to you and it drills down, sometimes zooming to your very own neighborhood! You’ll find specific plants at specific locations like these I found near my house:
The “W” on the listing links to Wikipedia and the “USDA” links to the … wait for it … USDA information about the fruit, vegetable or herb. There’s even an edit button to use if you go to the location and find discrepancies.
If you’re not interested in foraging, but you grow more than you can consume, there’s a mechanism for you to donate part of your bounty from your own garden. You could also add your location for the urban foragers, assuming it’s okay to have folks trooping through your yard.
Speaking of trooping through someone’s yard, Falling Fruit doesn’t come right out and say it, but if you’re unsure about the appropriateness of the fruit you’re thinking about picking, please be considerate and ask permission. You know what? Ask anyway. You’ll meet someone interesting and they’ll know you appreciate their harvest.
They do add this disclaimer: “Harvesting food in an urban setting comes with certain practical and moral considerations. For an introduction to the ethics of urban foraging, we recommend the excellent summary on our sibling site - Portland, Oregon’s Urban Edibles.
If you’re too lazy to click, here’s what Urban Edibles says:
This project cannot exist unless every participant acts responsibly. Be mindful of the sources you pick from and submit to the database. Here is a short working list of considerations.
Always ask permission before you pick no matter where the trees or bushes are located. Not everyone is alright with their neighbors picking from their sidewalk plot. However, many fruit-producing trees and herbaceous species are readily available on public land. It’s not always easy to tell which is which. Part of being a thoughtful community member is in respecting both private and public terrain. The Urban Edibles wild food source database is designed as a resource for potential harvesting locations (i.e. areas with an abundance of fallen fruit). We do not condone unsanctioned harvesting practices or trespassing. Consistently asking permission to harvest wild foods ensures lawful conduct. It also promotes face-to-face dialog between you and your neighbors. We believe that building this kind of wild food network helps connect us to one another as well as our urban habitat. It makes our communities that much healthier!
How much do I really need?
A tree full of ripe black cherries can be really exciting but how many will you use before they go bad? How much can you carry? Decide before you pick. Over-harvesting a wild food source can be very counter-intuitive when the goods go bad.
Will my harvesting leave an impact?
This includes visual impact, impact for future harvesters and last but not least the impact on the particular plant you are picking from. It is imperative to pick in a balanced and selective manner. The last thing we want is to damage the sources from which we harvest! You can help a public source produce better next year by watering it or notifying the city if it needs pruning.
Consider chemical contamination
Watch out! It’s easy to forget that Portland is a major metropolitan area with a strong potential for toxicity. Engaging dialog with homeowners and park workers about the history of a site is always helpful. Paint chips, pesticides, motor oil spills and even car wash runoff can affect the quality of the sources you pick from. The Portland Parks website claims that “the vast majority of pest management practices in parks never involve the use of pesticides” (Source). However, this is not always so. A vast majority of homeowners also tend to implement domestic pesticides like Roundup as well. Needless to say, it’s always best to glean as much information from the harvesting site as you can.
Legalities related to harvesting wild food sources are not always clear. However, the City of Portland has several laws and regulations pertaining to urban forestry practices such as Chapter 20.40 of the Portland City Code and Charter. More research is needed in this area.
I think using Urban Edibles and Falling Fruit is a fabulous way to connect with your neighbors, your community, and what you eat so go forth and forage! Responsibly, of course.
Now … off to get me some free-range pears, onions, apples and grapes …
You might have noticed I haven’t been online much for the last few weeks. I told people I was “going dark” partly because it seemed mysterious, partly because I didn’t want to broadcast my life to any bad guys, and partly because it was only two words and I’m just that lazy.
In April I spoke at my favorite writers conference, then a couple of days later hubs and I were off on a two-week vacation to Washington DC and Virginia where our son is stationed and my brother and his family live. Unfortunately, the day I got home from the conference, we found out my father-in-law had suddenly passed away. After conferring with the family, it was decided we should go along with our original vacation plans and then, after a day at home, hop a plane to Los Angeles for the funeral and to attend to details.
As you can imagine, these three trips were all quite disparate but they had a common theme.
The Pikes Peak Writers Conference is a big event with banquet food often shared with a table full of strangers. You only need to have attended one banquet in your entire life to conjure up the memory of variations of bland chicken, fish, beef and pasta dishes. Despite that, I look forward to the meals every year, certainly not for the cuisine, but for the company. Every year at every meal I hang out with fascinating writers creating all kinds of delicious stories. Some folks I’ve just met, some I’ve known for several years. They’re from every spectrum of the journey — those just tasting the possibilities of a career spent writing, all the way up to the well-seasoned pros. I love chatting with all of them during informal bleary-eyed breakfasts and at the lavish banquet dinners.
Vacation food is different. You get to indulge your palate in regional delicacies. In our case we got a lot of seafood and southern cooking, 4-star restaurants and neighborhood dives, all yummy and delightful.
We ate more than once at the Zagat-rated Mitsitam Cafe at the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian which specializes in native cuisine. We played ‘Guess the Spice’ — Coriander? Anise? Saffron? — which tested our knowledge of geography, history, and ethnicity. Cedar Planked Wild Salmon with Grilled Corn and Cherry Tapenade … Labrador Tea Marinated Grilled Bison Loin with Bing Cherry Infused Pinenut Butter … Sautéed Chard and Spring Onions … Roasted Sunchoke and Nettles … New Potato and Fiddlehead Fern Salad with Green Tomato Vinaigrette … Hominy and Grilled Asparagus Salad … Mesquite Pinon Cookies … Pinenut and Rosemary Tart. Elegant, award-winning, intriguing food.
But we also ate a couple of times at an intriguing hole-in-the-wall diner. We walked by it twice, deciding both times that perhaps we should come back after we confirmed our vaccinations were up-to-date. The third time we went in for breakfast and I was immediately sorry we didn’t go there every morning. It was run by a large and happy extended family. Most customers were greeted by name and others like long-lost cousins. They did a brisk carry-out business but we sat at an old-fashioned counter, sticky with maple syrup, faded and buffed by countless plates. It turned corners at every third or fourth seat, snaking geometrically around the diner. Each time we were there the conversations were public, everyone welcome to join in. We were asked about our travels and recommendations were offered as to what DC attractions were not to be missed. We were included in the wise-cracking between three manual laborers. The skinny guy didn’t believe that the big guy would eat everything in his overly hearty breakfast. I knew he could. Bets were made and accepted. It’s not a Zagat-rated restaurant, but probably only because Zagat never tasted their waffles and scrapple.
Like the conference, food was necessary but not the actual or complete experience. Vacation dining also allowed my husband and I to reconnect. Yes, we were tired and hungry after sightseeing all day so we needed to sit and eat. But we also got to talk. Despite the fact we are empty-nesters, we rarely make time at home to have a cocktail and a long, relaxing meal full of interesting conversation. Perhaps it’s because we don’t do or see as many interesting things in our normal lives. I mean, really, how often can you describe what you ‘did’ today? Yawn. Vacation dining allows deeper thought and discussion.
After vacation we had time to stop at home, do a couple loads of laundry and pay some bills before heading to Los Angeles to deal with Dean’s death. He lived eight decades, a life full of curiosity and adventure, many of them in the Congo in Africa. He died exactly as he wished, quick and mostly painless. He cooked himself Sunday breakfast in his own home, admired his vegetable garden, and by late afternoon he was gone.
Those of us left behind are consoled by the image of Dean eating his last breakfast at the same kitchen table he’d eaten at for 35 years. We gathered there too, without him. We shared food and drink and told funny stories about him. Again, the food nourished us, but it was more than that. It was comforting and ritualistic. It was no surprise to me that so many people wanted to take away kitchen utensils as tangible reminders of Dean and his wife Sarah, who we lost a dozen years earlier. The rolling pin. That set of bowls. The two-pronged fork. The tablecloth.
I guess these last few weeks have made me realize how much more there can be — should be — to the food we eat. We have a joke at our house when I make something with unusual spices. I ask, “Do you know what the secret ingredient is?” Inevitably someone will answer, “Is it love?”
Of course it is. But sometimes it’s also coriander.
May your meals provide nourishment, comfort, and as much adventure as you can handle.
Before I bought a juicer, clean-up was my biggest concern. I had heard horror stories about trying to get them suckers clean. I did my due diligence and settled on the Breville juicer. I was thrilled when it was easy to clean.
When I’m done making juice, I pour it over ice in a tall glass. It chills while I clean the juicer. Below are all the parts to clean. Note the plastic bag in the pulp bucket. That was a handy little trick I learned in my research. It’s so helpful! When I juice all day, I just keep that bag in there. It usually doesn’t get too full until the 3rd juice. Then I just take it out to the compost. Easy peasy. And if I’m going to use “clean pulp” for smoothies or meatloaf or something, I just place the bag in the freezer to wait for me. The black cylinder and the two plastic pieces get rinsed off. The metal basket has the blades and gets scrubbed with the wire brush that came with the machine.
When I’m done drinking my juice, I clean the glass and the pitcher.
That lid is ingenious. The long part there keeps the foam from your glass. Very handy!
I timed it today and it took me 4 minutes to clean the juicer while my Mean Greenie was chilling, and then another 2 minutes to clean the glass and pitcher. I don’t feel like it’s too much time to take, because essentially I’m doing my dishes before I eat rather than after. (I learned the hard way what happens when you let the metal basket sit without cleaning it. Hint: it doesn’t get easier to clean.) After we juice dinner tonight, it will all get washed thoroughly so I can do Day Two of my juice fast.
Next time we’ll talk about the economics of juicing. Money saver or extravagance?
A few months ago, my niece mentioned the movie “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” It happened to be streaming on Netflix so hubs and I watched it. (It’s still streaming as I was writing this, if you want to catch it.)
Here’s the trailer …
It’s a fascinating movie, all about Joe Cross’ journey back from the brink of poor health and how he accomplished it. In fact, it was so fascinating, I started investigating juicers and the world of juicing.
Mind you, I’m not fat, sick or nearly dead, and neither is hubs. But we have the typical middle-age maladies — skin woes, sleep woes, constantly-battling-those-ten-pounds woes. Plus, I’m expecting hot flash woes at some point. If we can get super nutrition from juicing that could address any or all of these issues, then it seems silly not to try.
But I’m also lazy. If I don’t have to cook dinner, then I’m a happy camper.
We ended up buying a “Breville JE98XL Juice Fountain Plus 50-watt Juice Extractor” for about $150 after perusing Joe Cross’ website advice about buying a juicer. I had heard that juicers were notoriously difficult to clean so I liked that he said this was one of the easiest to clean.
The juicer arrived and I couldn’t wait to get started. I didn’t really want to just jump in and start juicing stuff, since I was a blushing juice virgin, so I used some of Joe Cross’ recipes. My first was his Mean Green Juice, which is the one he shows a lot in the movie. Cucumber, celery, apples, kale, half a lemon and a bit of ginger. (That’s it there on the celery.)
This is when the “apple bits on my ceiling” first happened. I was a bit hesitant to get started — it’s loud, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I’m a chicken by nature — but I began pushing the ingredients through the top of the juicer. I did the kale and that turned out okay. I did the celery and that turned out okay. I did the cucumber and that turned out okay. Then I got cocky and dropped the apple halves in. The feeder tube has a separate dealibob that you use to push through the produce but I wasn’t fast enough getting it in there. The apples bounced and jumped and bits flew up to the ceiling. All very comical, I’m sure, but in less than a minute it all transmogrified into this …
This recipe made about 30 ounces which is 2 servings.
You can see it’s the most gorgeous color. The process isn’t work-free, of course. The produce needs to be washed and cut if necessary to fit into the feeding mechanism. The only thing in this recipe that needed to be cut was the apples. The kale I folded in half and fed through, the celery I broke with my hands, and the cucumber went through intact.
This is what’s left over. The pulp in the basket is practically dry, all the juice is wrung out. This, though, is one of my questions. We’ve always been told to eat the orange, not the juice so we get all the fiber as well. Juicing, however, does exactly the opposite.
I’m still doing some research, for my own peace of mind, but I already know there is no way I’d eat 1 cucumber + 4 celery stalks + 2 apples + 8 leaves of kale + half a lemon + a tablespoon of fresh ginger for one meal. Probably not in an entire day. I simply couldn’t, physically. So right off the bat, juicing gets me a ton of nutrients I wouldn’t normally get. I’m also juicing produce I never eat like bulbs of fennel and kohlrabi. Now, depending on the rest of my menu, I’ll add a scoop of chia seeds to my prepared juice to get some protein and fiber.
Now that I’ve had my juicer for a while, I also know that if we have “clean” pulp (like coring apples first and cutting the ends off carrots), then we can use the pulp in smoothies, omelettes, meatloaf and baked goods. That puts the fiber right back in our diet.
I can’t find any definitive information about how many calories you get when you juice, but that’s not why I’m interested in juicing. It would be nice to know, though.
Joe Cross also talks about juice fasts … he calls it ‘rebooting.’ By pure serendipity, hubs was leaving town and I took the opportunity to go on my own 3-day reboot, mainly to try out a bunch of new juice recipes. I didn’t really have a plan, just to juice 4 meals a day for three days. Long story short … I wasn’t starving and I lost 5#. I assumed the weight loss was water weight and would come right back on, but it’s been a few weeks and it never came back. I don’t really understand why. I went right back to my regular eating habits and even some fairly bad ones — lots of restaurant visits and Easter chocolate. We’ve juiced for dinner periodically, maybe once or twice a week … maybe that has something to do with it.
But it’s kind of a puzzler. I’m doing another 3-day reboot today, tomorrow and the next day, mainly out of curiosity about the weight loss.
Here’s another of recipe we found … Good Morning Juice. Yams, carrots and oranges. (I don’t bother peeling the yams any more.) This has become one of our favorites. I made the mistake the first time of not peeling the oranges. (Have I mentioned I’m lazy?) You can get away with the zest from one orange, but not four!
Funny story about this one. See how full it is? Yeah. It’s so much fun to juice stuff, I wasn’t even paying attention. One more inch of carrot and I would have had a mess on my hands. Well, my countertop, anyway! This one, too, is gorgeous and delicious.
I saw the coolest idea today at Kenlie’s All The Weigh blog. She posted a blog called ‘Friend Makin Mondays’ where you answer 10 questions about food on your own blog then go back and comment on hers with your link so others can see your answers. Makin’ friends by sharing blogs and info … very nifty!
So, here are my answers:
1. What did you eat for dinner last night?
Actually, I didn’t eat dinner last night; I drank it, but not in the way you might be thinking. I just got a new juicer so I’ve been trying out some recipes. Last night was cucumber, celery, apples, kale, lemon and ginger. Delicious!
2. If you could make one food calorie-free for the next year, what would you choose?
Cake. Duh. Perhaps fried chicken. Or beer. Or cheeseburgers. No, cake. Or maybe potato chips.
3. How often do you go to the grocery store?
Once a week. Now with the juicer, I’ll probably need to go more often for produce, but perhaps I’ll figure out a better system than I’ve come up with so far which is, “Fill the fridge with greens and watch them wilt before your eyes.” Not as efficient as it sounds.
4. Do you make a list before buying groceries?
Always. When my kids were little and I stayed home with them we only had one car and hubs had it with him. I learned early on never to run out of things. Especially diapers. I’m lucky to have the benefit of a large pantry so when I open something, I write it on my list to get a new one next week. As the kids got older they knew that if it wasn’t on my list, I wasn’t buying it. They tried to sneak in items they wanted but knew I probably wouldn’t buy. I guess they were hoping for momentary lapses in my judgment. They were always disappointed, due to my overwhelming meanness.
5. List three things that can always be found in your kitchen.
7. Do you ever use a slow cooker? If so, will you share a recipe?
I used to, but mine broke and I haven’t replaced it. When hubs and I were newlyweds a thousand years ago, we’d throw in a turkey leg or two before we left for work. (Well, he would. The thought of touching raw poultry that early in the morning makes my gorge rise.) But after work … delicious! The apartment always smelled like Thanksgiving.
8. How often do you try new recipes?
Constantly. That’s how I develop recipes for my Lazy Low Cal Lifestyle cookbooks. I look for recipes that sound good but have too many calories, then I try to “health ‘em up.” I figure out the exact calorie count and determine specific portions. I hate recipes that say, “Serves 6″ so my recipes say things like, “Makes 6 one-cup servings.” The recipes also have to be incredibly simple (because I am oh-so lazy), with easy-to-find ingredients. I’ll never make anyone seek out an Ethiopian market to buy niter kibbeh to make chechebsa. You’re welcome.
9. What is the most delicious meal(s) you make?
So many good ones! Beef Burgundy Stew (249 calories) … Quick Seafood Soup (69 calories) … So Easy It’s A Crime Lasagne (209 calories). Great. Thanks. Now I’m hungry.
10. Share at least one thing that is currently in your kitchen even though you don’t like it.
Mayonnaise. But I’ll probably put a dollop in my tuna fish for a sandwich today. I just won’t look. Or listen.
Okay, now it’s your turn. Answer these questions on your blog, then come back here and post your link. At least tell me your answers to #2 and #10. (If you don’t have a blog, feel free to just post your answers as a comment.) And be sure to check back to see how other folks answered.
First there was the prevalence of bedbugs, hasma* (don’t google it!), and tripe soup … then the ending to Life of Pi … and now this.
I read a short blurb in a magazine, one of those Q & A things: “Is it true you should never eat raw mushrooms?”
The answer surprised me. No, you should never eat raw mushrooms because they are indigestible and have small amounts of toxins in them.
But it made me wonder because every salad bar I’ve ever seen has had the ubiquitous bowl of raw mushrooms. Why would they serve them raw if you’re not supposed to eat them raw?
So I went on a bit of a mushroom expedition via my computer since I don’t live in mushroom country and it’s kind of windy out today. Plus, I don’t know where my shoes are.
First stop was David Campbell’s MycoWeb. He agrees it’s not a good idea to eat raw mushrooms, but the toxins are destroyed by cooking. He admits, though, we learn new things all the time about the food we eat.
“Bear in mind, there is much yet to be learned about eating mushrooms; wild or tame, cooked or raw…the research is in progress, and we the mycophagists are, by default, the guinea pigs. What we know of mushroom edibility is primarily the result of shared anecdotal information, as compiled and recorded over the course of human history.”
While he and I are both believers in moderation, he says since he doesn’t know anyone who got cancer from a mushroom and because they’re so delicious, he’s going to keep eating them.
That makes me nervous because I think it’s unlikely that people with tumors ever definitively know their cause.
She is breathlessly amazed by relatively insignificant details. He is much less so. He shows a bunch of different kinds of mushrooms and talks about their usefulness in fighting diseases and how researchers are using them. He explains why frogs hopping around are a good thing in his growing rooms. And then he explains that many experts think button and portabella mushrooms are highly carcinogenic when they’re digested. There’s a unique chemical in them which make eating them equivalent to smoking cigarettes. The difference is that mushrooms can cause tumors anywhere in your body rather than just in your lungs.
So, I’m not sure what I think. Over the years the experts have said that so many delicious things are carcinogenic one week and then perfectly safe the next that I tend to tune them out. As with all things, moderation and variety in your diet is probably key.
One thing is pretty clear, though. You shouldn’t eat raw mushrooms. I think that’s Nature’s benevolent way of saying, “Here, let’s sauté that up in a little butter and garlic.”
What do you think about mushrooms? Will you eat them in the raw? Will you eat them with your Ma? Will you place them in your jaw? Will you tattle to the law?